Age of Wonders 4: Custom Realm Scenarios for Beginners

A few Suggestions for enjoyable Custom Realms for Beginners

Basic Information

Before we get started, I would like to give you some basic information about creating custom realms, how certain things are affected by what, and why they behave the way they do.

Omnious AI
The AI/NPC opponents in Age of Wonders 4 are rudimentary with very limited “personality”-priority sets. Okay, okay – one step back here! What I mean is that the AI does not strategise. Not at all. It is a very rudimentary “construct” that focuses on making the “best decision which is possible at the moment”, regardless of what a human would consider logical in the long term perspective. For example if the best choice for the AI right now is to build a goldmine, despite they would need actually mana for a successful move, they will still build a mine, simply because they “do not think about tomorrow”. They do not remember, they do not dream, they do not plan. Keeping that in mind will help you to identify questionable decisions by the AI which origins that rudimentary behaviour.

At first that might sound repetitive and eventually boring, if that is what the AI has to offer. It… partially is, without doubts. But it still can be fun due to the “personality”-priority sets. On top of the AI’ core behaviour you can find “personality”-patterns which they use, depending on how their factions culture and origin are configured, and maybe a grain of luck. A AI ruler who is of barbarian origin and ruthless raider is more likely to adapt the “personality”-pattern of a warlord, while a AI ruler with the high origin and chosen uniters is more likely to adapt the diplomat “personality”-pattern.

Those patterns influence AI aggressiveness and decisions on a surface level, but can still have a strong impact on your overall experience, giving you a manifold number of possible variants. They also will try to achieve the victory condition best suited to their personality within a normal default victory conditions setup.

Does the AI cheat?
Funny you should ask. Yes, they do! But contrary to popular misconception, the way they get benefits, depending on the difficulty level they set, is entirely in the form of discounts. They cannot create units out of thin air. They do not have unlimited resources. And for the sake of fairness, they do not have handicaps that can be applied to human players. Without those discounts the AI would end up economically bankrupt, as they are constantly in disadvantage against a human player who simply applies foresight in their gameplay.

Hm? The AI should be able to do better when you think of AI for chess? A very popular misconception. Reasoning: even the best AI capable of playing chess uses the same rudimentary basic behaviour. The difference lies in their ability and access to data to calculate countless possibilities many moves in advance. But they can only do this because chess is severely limited in its complexity compared to a modern computer game. I shudder to think how long it would take the AI to make its move if it had to calculate every possible next move, with X number of players, random “probability” seeds and – well – human behaviour, which is infinite in its potential to deviate from the most optimal path.

Long story short: there is not much to expect from an AI here. But thankfully the game offers multiplayer.

Should you ever see something the AI is doing which surprises you, like, seemingly manifesting units out of thin air: keep in mind that what the AI can do, you can do too. They just got a discount. Not a God mode. And the magic of e.g. concealment effects can easily be mistaken for units appearing out of nowhere ~

Map Generation
Each map is randomly generated, every time with a new “seed”, adjusted with realm traits. The AI ruler do not affect that generation with their personality, so some can end up with unexpected advantages or disadvantages. However, the number of rulers in the game will affect map size and positioning, as well as the distance between players.

If you play single player against the AI and choose an odd number > five, you will most likely get the prime position in the centre of the map. Prime because it is the absolute best, with guaranteed action to be expected! Keep this in mind when creating the map, as you may want to adjust if you prefer a more ~ relaxed safety position at the edge or even in the corner of the map, with the disadvantage of limited expansion and the risk of getting trapped early on.

Story Realm vs. Custom Realm
Be warned that a custom realm session will feel very different from a story realm session. On the one hand, you will not get scripted quests, but on the other hand, custom realms offer a level of challenge that is much more interesting than the lacklustre story realms. This is due to the nature of the story realms, which, in addition to the very simplified initiation realm, can be thought of as a large “introductory/tutorial campaign”.

Performance Matters
I will only recommend maps up to a maximum of five rulers. Why is that? Because although the game allows you to create larger maps, it does not mean that your PC can actually handle them. Especially with the score victory feature disabled, which allows you to go beyond 150 moves, the game will require more and more CPU processing power for each turn as more objects become available for the calculations. Doing the calculations and then loading them from your storage drive is the main reason why turns take so long to finalise. The usage of RAMDisk to lessen the load on your storage drive is a reliable workaround, but not something I can easily recommend to beginners.

I want you to have a smooth and enjoyable experience playing the game. And from my personal experience with other similar games, I strongly recommend that you keep the number of players low unless you are absolutely sure that your gaming rig can handle it. And if you are playing multiplayer, you also need to make sure that your fellow players’ gaming PCs are up to the task. Unless, of course, you are using Steam Remote Play and the game’s hotseat feature. For good reason, this is probably the multiplayer mode with the fewest desynchronisation problems.

Sword Coast (Easy)

Geography Trait: Coast

Clime Trait: None

Inhabitant’s Trait: Magic Origin

Presence Trait: None

Misc Traits: Wondrous Past, Crystalline Abundance, Bannerlords

Player Distance: Far

Players: 3

Factions: Normal AI difficulty

Game Flow: Default Settings

A very simple map which is compact but also comes with comfortable space for your first steps. The limited number of players (in single player you and two AI rulers) helps to keep track early on, while you get also to see more than just one opponent. I always recommend you setup the rulers for the AI personally and customised. That way the overall first impression will feel better. If you are playing multiplayer I recommend a co-op game, setting the remaining AI ruler to hard instead of normal.

While it might sound at first “hey, is that not too much for a beginner?”, do not be afraid of the setting. Even if you lose the session, you will still come out as a winner with good experience. The AI on normal difficulty is easier than you might think, and if it turns out a challenge you are guaranteed to grow. The Inhabitant’s Trait and the Wondrous Past trait will guarantee a “magical first impression”.

Isan Meidan (Easy)

Geography Trait: Continent

Clime Trait: Endless Fields

Inhabitant’s Trait: Peaceful Lands

Presence Trait: None

Misc Traits: Wondrous Past, Massive Underground, City States, Arctic Blizzards

Player Distance: Far

Players: 4

Factions: Teams 2v2, Hard AI difficulty

Game Flow: Score Victory disabled, Magic Victory disabled

This is for your first steps towards further exploration! More exploration of the map. Explore what it feels like to play in a team (with the AI). And getting your first taste of some of the more specialised Misc Traits, while still keeping things very simple. The Massive Underground trait will give you a good base to learn more about the benefits of the underground parts of the map, while Arctic Blizzards will give you a chance to get your first taste of environmental hazards.

The Frozen Throne (Normal)

Requirement: Pantheon Level 4

Geography Trait: Land

Clime Trait: Frozen Realm

Inhabitant’s Trait: None

Presence Trait: Domain of the Frost Queen

Misc Traits: Wondrous Past, Frostling Influence, Regenerating Infestations

Player Distance: Far

Players: 4

Factions: Artica with Hard AI difficulty, rest with normal difficulty

Game Flow: Score Victory disabled, Expansion Victory disabled, Magic Victory disabled

A themed setting where your goal is to defeat the Frost Queen. You can either compete with your fellow rulers, forge alliances or force them into submission to achieve your goal. You already have some experience in unlocking the necessary Pantheon level for this theme, so it is time to see how you will fare. Whether you decide to try out the Arctic Adaptation Mind Trait is up to you, as is your decision as to which Tome of Magic is best suited to defeating the Frost Queen!

Happy hunting! 

Pirates of the Carribean (Hard)

Geography Trait: Islands

Clime Trait: Overgrown Realm

Inhabitant’s Trait: Rampant Undeath

Presence Trait: None

Misc Traits: Wondrous Past, Regenerating Infestations, Curse of Undeath, Deathcasting

Player Distance: Far

Players: 4

Factions: Hard AI difficulty

Game Flow: Score Victory disabled, Magic Victory disabled

An adapted version of my favourite setup. Think of it as a cursed land, with very resilient undead that might give you some trouble in the beginning. The Islands Trait gives you some time to build before you are forced to set sail and explore. It comes with a relatively challenging start, but is still manageable enough for beginners to enjoy. Whether you choose to form an alliance or force your fellow rulers into submission is up to you!

Brave New World (Hard)

Geography Trait: Islands

Clime Trait: Forming Realm

Inhabitant’s Trait: Demonic Realm

Presence Trait: None

Misc Traits: Wondrous Past, Regenerating Infestations, Underground Start, Volcanic Eruptions

Player Distance: Far

Players: 3

Factions: Hard AI Difficulty

Game Flow: All Victory Conditions disabled – there can be only one victor through force!

If you can do this, you are no longer a beginner. Think of it as your baptism by fire. You need your experience to make the most of this young, still-forming and dangerous realm. Being on an island only buys you so much time before you have to face your opponents. The underground start will present you with unexpected advantages and disadvantages. The map is more fun than you might think at first.


The settings Misc Traits: Wondrous Past and Player Distance: Far
are my personal preferences. I prefer to have some space to build and expand. It keeps me relaxed that the enemy has some distance to me. Wondrous Past finds its fixed place in my recommendation as I think it is a great experience for beginners playing the game in single player. It offers a lot of variety and challenges beyond the victory conditions.

The screenshots I have included below each realm description show a randomly generated result of the settings used. It is unlikely that you will ever get the same map, as the generator creates it randomly each time, and there is currently no way to share seeds between players.

When playing multiplayer there are a few things good to know:

Turn System: Classic / Simultaneous
Taking turns simultaneously is known to be overall faster, since all players can act at the same time for the ongoing turn. However, this mode more vulnerable to desynchronisation than taking turns the classic way.

Turn Timer / Tactical Idle Timer
Having a running timer helps to discourage inactivity. But I also think it can be stressful, especially for new players, to have and see a clock ticking while they are still learning the game. The fact that they are making someone else wait is enough of a burden. So I would not recommend these options unless you are playing multiplayer with strangers.

Combat vs. Human
For reasons of fairness, I strongly recommend only allowing manual battles when playing against other human players. If you feel that a battle or session is getting too much for you, you can always use the surrender option. But especially for new players, I like to encourage them to get some real hands-on experience with the tactical combat aspect of the game.

Observe Manual Combat
This… can be difficult. On the one hand, I recommend watching others play, as it is part of the entertainment. On the other hand, not watching and just waiting – boring as it is – keeps the connection more stable. I would still prefer to be able to watch all of my fellow players’ manual battles.

Enable Combat Retry / Restart
For beginners, I recommend always leaving the option to retry and restart a battle when fighting against the AI. Although this means extra waiting time for your fellow players, it is a valuable learning opportunity that should not be missed.

Summa summarum I personally like to encourage you, when possible, to enjoy the game together with a good friend with understanding and patience for each other being new to the game. Playing co-op against the AI, while being connected via shared voice chat, is by far the most enjoyable beginner’s experience you could wish for.

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